The following is an abridged excerpt from Michael Bisping’s autobiography “Quitters Never Win: My Life in UFC,” in which Bisping talks about the worst defeat of his career.
Eleven years ago Friday, at UFC 100, Bisping suffered one of the most brutal KO losses in MMA history, courtesy of a Dan Henderson ‘H-Bomb’ right hand. For Bisping’s growing chorus of critics, it was final proof the brash Briton would never be world champion.
“Instead, it was the most important result of my career,” Bisping said.
(Editor’s note: The excerpt combines passages from several chapters to tell the story of the Henderson fight; the original strong language is included.)
My foot was in water.
My forehead was laying against something cold. I was standing up. There was a white noise crammed into my ears. I heard voices miles away.
I became aware I was standing in a shower, resting my head against a cool white wall. Probably to help with the headache I’d also just noticed.
It felt like I was about to wake from a dream. When I knocked the shower off the white noise melted and the talking sounded closer. I turned around in the steam. I was in a small bathroom with a box shower in a corner.
I put a towel around myself. I was a little dizzy. I was carrying two headaches, one at the back of my skull and one dangling above my left ear. The white noise changed pitch into a long ringing. My jaw felt funny. I walked through the archway of a door and there was a larger, much brighter room with six men in it. I knew them, somehow. There were bags crammed with stuff on the floor. One of the men gave me a friendly nod as the rest kept talking in muted voices.
My mate – Jacko was his name – was sat on a bench nearest to me. There were people in business attire and wearing ID cards going in and out of the room. Something had happened. I didn’t know what.
Acting as normal as possible, I quietly gestured for Jacko to come closer.
“Hey – what’s going on?” I whispered.
Jacko had a sympathetic look on his face. “It’s alright mate,” he said. “Go get dried and we’ll go.”
“Yeah, yeah, alright,” I said, and turned back into the bathroom. I dried myself and put some clothes on but then I went back to Jacko, confused all over again.
“Hey,” I whispered again. “What did you say was going on?”
He looked concerned. “You’ve just fought. They are taking you to get checked out … you remember, yeah?”
“Oh yeah … ‘course. Gimme a minute.”
I put the rest of my clothes on slowly, buying time. Not enough.
“Tell me again – what are we doing?” I asked Jacko.
“You’ve got to go the hospital, mate.”
He turned to the rest of the guys in the room, attracting their attention.
“Do ya remember what happened, Mike?’ one of them said. ‘You got knocked out.”
That made zero sense.
“What you on about?” I asked him. “Knocked out? I’m not fighting for another two months. UFC 100 … Dan Henderson fight in July. Why was I knocked out? Did I take a short notice fight?”
“It is July now, mate,” I was told. “We’re at UFC 100 now. You lost the fight to Dan Henderson.”
It made no sense. I didn’t know where I was other than in a dressing room in some arena. I knew these people but other than Jacko, I couldn’t find their names in my head. It was like typing in a password that you know is correct, only to get an error message over and over no matter how slowly you pushed the keys.
It was embarrassing. I didn’t like the way they were all looking at me, asking me if I was okay, so I said: “Oh, yeah, now I remember… I remember the fight.”
Later, I’d learn this was the third time in twenty minutes that my team had pleaded with me to accept what my brain would never remember.
The euphemism the UFC use for fighters getting taken away in an ambulance is ‘transported’. On 11 July 2009, around 10:15 p.m. Pacific Time, I was transported from the Mandalay Bay Events Center to Sunrise Hospital on South Maryland Parkway, Las Vegas.
As the ambulance turned off the Strip and into the more residential parts of the city something turned a corner inside my head, too. Sat in the back of that ambulance, the floodgates to three months of memories were swung open.
You can only do as well as you know, and the truth is I didn’t know how to prepare for a championship level fighter in the summer of 2009. In the years that followed, I’d learn it takes confidence to take a day off when preparing for a fight but for the fight at UFC 100, I didn’t have that confidence. That was my fault. I’d spent over half a year with Dan Henderson living next door to my thoughts. I’d watched his best fights over and over, witnessing him beat up legends like Wanderlei Silva and Renzo Gracie and even UFC heavyweight champion Minotauro Nogueira.
The worst Henderson could do to me was played on a loop, over and over, when I should have been focused on what I was going to do to him. The huge stage of UFC 100, the high-stakes of a promise of a title shot against Anderson Silva to whoever won, the step up in class against a two-time PRIDE world champion – I responded to these mental pressures by physically training myself into the ground.
When I checked into the site of UFC 100, the golden Mandalay Bay hotel in early July, I was over trained, over tired and over anxious.
My only memory of the first Dan Henderson fight comes from watching it on tape years later. So, I can’t give you any insight into what happened other than what you can see for yourself. We had a close enough first but in the second I was knocked out.
Henderson’s weapon of choice was a right-handed punch thrown in an arch; it raises up before crashing down like an artillery shell. At 3 minutes, 17 seconds of the second round he landed one directly to the left side of my jaw. I was out before my head bounced off the canvas.
I go back and forth on how I feel about the second shot Henderson chose to throw while I was laid out and defenseless. Either way, I’d been knocked out in the most devastating fashion. Eleven years later, Henderson KO 2 Bisping remains one of the top knockouts in the sport’s history.
The doctor at the hospital told me I was fine and to go get some rest. Instead, I went out partying. I felt I had to. When I got back to my hotel room a dozen family and friends were waiting for me, they all cheered and clapped me as I walked in the room. I was hugged and had my shoulders slapped.
These people had travelled to the other side of the world to support me and, for some of them, this was their one holiday of the year. Even though I wanted to crawl into bed and shut off the lights, I owed it to them to suck it up, put on a brave face and spend some time with them.
“Alright, let’s go drown my sorrows!” I announced to cheers.
In hundreds of MMA, kickboxing, BJJ and every other type of fight I’d been in, I’d hardly ever lost and had never once been defeated conclusively.
The Henderson result was something else entirely. I hadn’t just been beaten; I’d been KO’d – massively so – on the biggest show in UFC history. There was no commuting this defeat; I’d trained harder and for longer than for any fight in my life and still didn’t get the win. There were no positives to take away or easy answers to implement.
For me, UFC 100 never ended. The image of Henderson, arched in mid- air, swinging the base of his fist downwards towards my unprotected chin, was everywhere. On T-shirts, banners, posters and every UFC broadcast. The final seconds of the fight were omnipresent on every website, forum and embedded in every nasty tweet I was sent.
It quickly felt like half the world was celebrating the worst moment of my life and so I hid behind self-deprecating humor.
“Who’d circle into his opponent’s best punch?” I asked rhetorically in interviews.
I was smiling as I delivered the line, but inside I was crushed.
Growing up, I felt like I was good at one thing – fighting. All the way to my early twenties, my sense of self-worth was based on being a good fighter. Now it felt like half the world was insisting I wasn’t. The online abuse was insane. My entire career was getting torn apart. It bothered me more than I let on to anyone.
It’s a lonely place to put yourself, hiding what you are really going through. I even kept my wife Rebecca in the dark.
My comeback fight was scheduled for UFC 105 in Manchester in November. I asked for Wanderlei Silva, the Brazilian whose five-year reign of terror as PRIDE FC champion had already made him a legend in the sport, but he was out for the rest of 2009.
Instead, I was matched against another PRIDE standout, Denis Kang. The ‘Super Korean’ had been the runner-up in PRIDE’s 2006 Grand Prix, fighting in the finale despite tearing a bicep in the semi-final earlier than night. Kang was the kind of assignment every fighter faces without an abundance of enthusiasm: a dangerous opponent whose name isn’t well known outside the hardcore fan base. Kang was installed as the odds-on favorite to win the fight on 14 November.
My training for the fight began in late summer. I don’t remember feeling any difference in returning to the gym after the Henderson result than any other first week back. My confidence wasn’t shaken or anything, I wasn’t gun-shy in sparring and there were no doubts or hesitations I needed to address.
Apparently the team around me felt differently. We had several established boxers in the gym with us for a week, and I took the opportunity to spar with them. In one session, one of the pugilists dropped me a couple of times. I could feel an anxiety tighten around the room. Heavy bags went unpunched for a few seconds and Zach Light, who was now coaching at the gym, put both his hands on the ring apron and trained his eyes on me.
Then I touched down a third time and Zach leapt into the boxing ring to wave the sparring off.
“You’re done, Mike,” he said.
It was frustrating – I really was fine – but I can understand my team’s concern. Most of the people in the gym were there in the Mandalay Bay Arena dressing room when I literally couldn’t remember where – or when – I was. But now it seemed like even the people I trained with didn’t believe in me anymore.
One Sunday evening in August, I was in bed at home enjoying Rocky III. I got to the part where Balboa was knocked out by Clubber Lang and had to hide his anguish from Mickey. Sly Stallone’s character was beaten and heartbroken but still trying to pretend everything was okay …
Just like I was.
I teared up.
Then I broke down.
That’s when Rebecca came up to check on me.
“What’s the matter?” she said, slipping through the door.
I had one hand pressed against my eyes, holding the tears inside, and waved for Rebecca to shut the door with the other. I didn’t want the kids to hear.
“It’s okay,” Rebecca said, holding me. ‘I had no idea, I’m sorry.’
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t let on …”
That was a big first step.
Slowly, piece by piece, I began to reconstruct myself.
Losing like I sucked. Missing out on the title fight sucked. The abuse I was taking was awful and it sucked. It all sucked but … I wasn’t finished. I’d made some money by that point, enough to propel myself into a different career if I wanted to be done with MMA.
But I wasn’t done. fuck, no, I wasn’t done by a long way. The naysayers were wrong. I was one of the best in the world, and I didn’t care who didn’t believe it. I would fight on and prove it. I’d fight for my respect. I’d beat Henderson next time. I’d get that big fight with Anderson Silva. And – if it was the last thing I did on Earth – I’d fight my way to the UFC world middleweight title.
It’s important to realize social media isn’t real life; and that MMA bloggers’ opinions only matter as much as you think they do. I got that message deafeningly loud and crystal clear from the 16,693 fans packing out the Manchester Arena.
The ear-splitting cheers those people gave me at UFC 105 meant everything to me. They didn’t hold back their emotions or hedge their bets until I had the fight won. They put their heart and souls on the line and declared – as loudly as their voice boxes could – that they were with me. All the way!
It wasn’t just the decibels ringing in my ears or the rumble under my feet, it was the outstretched hands, the fists pumping in the air and the expressions on their faces. These were real people – not faceless social media trolls. And none of them had written me off. They still believed in me. The energy surge was intoxicating. I pointed down the TV camera tracking me to the Octagon and screamed at my critics: ‘YOU HEAR THAT, YOU FUCKERS?!?’
On commentary, Joe Rogan mistook my gestures for anger – ‘Man, Bisping is pumped up! Look at him! He looks psychotic!’ but it wasn’t anger. It was determination. Weapons-grade determination. I would not let these people down.
The first round against Kang did not go to plan, though. He caught me with a right hand and I spent the next four minutes grappling from the bottom, defending against his attacks.
When the horn sounded to end the round I turned to all four sides of the arena and mouthed, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’ I’d promised them that I’d be aggressive and go all out for the first-round finish, and I’d spent most of the first round on my back.
Everything clicked together in the second round. I landed combinations, changed levels, took him down and unleashed an arsenal of punches, elbows and knees. Every success was cheered. I felt like myself once more. Kang got up briefly. I took him down again. I continued to hack away. I felt strong. Then I let him up and landed more strikes from a standing position until he fell for the final time.
Referee Dan Miragliotta waved it off at 4:24 of the second round.
The fans went mental. I was so overcome with emotion that I had to sit down on the canvas for a few seconds to compose myself.
“That answered every single question,” Rogan had to yell into his mic over the noise in the arena. “Every single one of them. Bisping’s back was against the wall, he took on a very tough guy, and – in my opinion – had the performance of his career. He was put in a bad position, he got dropped, he defended on the ground and when it was time to finish – he finished. He beat up Denis Kang and finished him.”
As Rogan took his headset off to walk up the stairs and interview me, my son Callum sprinted across the Octagon. I saw him coming and knelt down to hold him tight.
“I love you,” I told him.
“I love you!” he said.
Joe touched me on the arm to signal the start of the interview but the fans were still cheering.
“You’ve no idea how I felt after the last fight,’ I said into the microphone. “This is my life, I dedicate everything to this and it really hurts me when people don’t give me the respect I think I deserve. I’ve never, ever, turned down an opponent in my life. I’ll fight anyone. I want to go right to the top – but I know I’ve got a long way to go. Bear with me. I’m trying, guys.”
“Quitters Never Win: My Life in UFC” by Michael Bisping with Ant Evans is out now in the U.S. and can be purchased from Amazon. The U.S. edition of the U.K. best seller is fully updated and includes an exclusive new chapter covering Bisping’s retirement, Hall of Fame induction, acting career, and his harrowing escape from would-be kidnappers in South Africa.